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Purchasing Goods and Services

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There are instances where a project or activity requires the purchase of goods being delivered to or used in a foreign location or the payment of services taking place outside of the U.S. Such purchases require adherence to Stanford's purchasing procedures. If any of the goods are capital equipment, the guidelines for managing assets must also be followed. Stanford’s Purchasing department can often assist with purchases which can be made in the U.S. but delivered to foreign locations. Alternatively, working with a local collaborator may facilitate purchase and payment of the good(s), but additional care should be paid to title and warranty matters. In addition to the information provided in this section, when purchasing goods from U.S. suppliers for delivery to an overseas location, refer to the Export Controls page.

Stanford screens all central payments made against the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list prior to passing payments to the bank. Given that there are payments made in the field for projects which may not originate from Stanford’s central financial system, the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research (DoR) has created a Restricted Party Screening tool for the Stanford community to perform SDN and U.S. Government-related restricted party screens for foreign persons and organizations with whom Stanford is entering into an international research collaboration or agreement, or making a payment. Stanford individuals are expected to be aware of these requirements and to be mindful of them when entering into transactions with or within a foreign country.

Contracting locally for services provided overseas should be supported by a bilateral agreement signed by both parties. Be cognizant of the issues that may arise when services are being provided by a foreign individual. If the services are being provided by a local organization, GBS suggests following Stanford’s procurement processes with payment from the U.S. to the foreign organization. Generally, payments for goods and services abroad can be made at Stanford through direct payments, as a reimbursement, or as an advance – as discussed below:

Direct University Payments

Purchasing Card (PCard)

A PCard may be used to purchase goods or services overseas. However, do familiarize yourself with the University’s restrictions on the use of PCard. Such restrictions include travel or entertainment expenses, restricted commodities, or services that benefit employees (e.g., insurance).

Non-PO Payment Request via Expense Requests System

Foreign institutions and individuals that will accept a check or electronic funds transfer (EFT) can be set up as vendors and paid normally through Stanford’s Expense Request System (ERS).

Wire transfer

Wire transfers are more expensive to process than other transactions, so they are appropriate only when there are no other good options.


Travel Card (TCard)

TCard is often the most convenient method of payment internationally, and Stanford's Tcards are also now chip-enabled allowing for easier use in Europe and other locations which require chip-and-pin security.


The use of cash when making payments abroad often requires a balance between safety and utility. Stanford strongly discourages cash payments, both because there is often little or no record of the transaction, and because transporting cash is risky for safety and security reasons. Where cash is the only option, it is strongly recommended that local banks (when using traveler’s checks or money orders), ATMs, or Western Union are utilized and that there is minimal cash on hand to the extent possible. Further, where there is no option and cash payments need to be made by transporting money into the foreign country, be aware of the need to comply with jurisdictional currency controls and disclosures. Be sure to acquaint yourself with regulations before travelling, and if necessary, make alternative plans.

Expense Advances

Under certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to request a cash advance to pay for infrequent international travel on University business. All advances for travel must include supporting documentation – such as an air ticket receipt showing proof of payment. Requirements for Expense Advances can be found in Stanford’s Administrative Guide and in the Travel sections of the Gateway to Financial Activities website.

Regardless of the payment method used, be mindful of documentation requirements for any purchase that will be processed as business expenses / reimbursements. If there is insufficient documentation, or if the expense does not qualify for reimbursement under Stanford policy, the reimbursement may be considered taxable income to the employee and might not be reimbursed at all. More information on reimbursement policy and documentation is available in the Stanford Business Expense Policy.

What's Next?

Buying and paying for goods and services for use in a foreign country should follow Stanford policy with payment going directly to the vendor from the U.S. Using non-cash methods to the extent possible is also advised. If you need other options, contact GBS for support to identify reasonable alternatives given your particular needs.